July 15, 2024

Vagmare.com

The Intersection of Information and Insight

Vir to lay off staff, cut costs amid setbacks building on COVID success

2 min read

Dive Brief:

  • Vir Biotechnology on Thursday announced a restructuring that will result in a 12% reduction in its workforce as well as the closure of some of its research and development facilities.
  • The company said the restructuring will help prioritize investments in key drugs in development for chronic hepatitis delta and hepatitis B. Data from a Phase 2 trial testing a combination of two of its candidates in hepatitis D are expected in the second quarter of 2024.
  • Vir has been struggling to build upon its initial success developing an antibody drug for COVID-19. The San Fransico-based company has been banking on its antibody technology to develop medicines for more infectious diseases. However, a closely watched experimental candidate for influenza failed earlier this year, forcing Vir to change up its plans.

Dive Insight:

Vir notched a couple victories not long after it was formed in 2016. It raised hundreds of millions of dollars in private funding and secured a validating partnership with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. Shortly thereafter, it helped bring an antiviral for Ebola to market.

In 2021, Vir enjoyed another success, albeit short-lived, when the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency clearance for a COVID antibody treatment it co-developed with GSK. But the treatment, called Xevudy, eventually lost that authorization as newer viral variants muted its potency. 

Vir’s CEO, former Biogen executive George Scangos, stepped down at the beginning of 2023. Marianne De Backer took the job in April and changed its course, shifting the company’s research focus towards oncology and autoimmune diseases.

Still, the company’s closest chance at future success comes from its original infectious disease work, namely treatments for hepatitis B and D. The restructuring is meant to back that effort and preserve cash. 

The reduction in its workforce will affect 75 positions, including the elimination of a small molecule research gruop that began in the third quarter.

Vir will also close two R&D facilities in Missouri and Oregon next year. R&D will continue at sites in Switzerland and San Francisco.

Vir said it expects to reduce costs by at least $40 million annually.

As of the third quarter, the company had $1.7 billion in cash, cash equivalents and investments.

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